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Sandy Garrett's Column

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Oklahoma soon will raise the bar on state-mandated tests for elementary reading and mathematics.

The State Board of Education a constitutional body of seven members chaired by the State Superintendent has directed Oklahoma’s student testing company for Grades 3-8 to lead an effort resulting in higher expectations of students.This month, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) of Minneapolis, Minn., will convene panels of reading and math educators, business and civic leaders, and representatives from higher education. DRC will facilitate committee work to raise the bar on what students must do to be proficient on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests.

The original development of Grade 3-8 tests was both in state law and in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, however the tests were phased in between 2001 and 2006. Proficiency rates for some tests were set years before other tests were even required, such as the 6th and 7th grade tests. We have begun to see an “outlier” effect on some of the tests, especially with the 4th and 5th grades.

Thus,it is critical that we now align the test benchmarks, or cut scores, to provide consistency across the board on what it means to be “proficient” at each grade level on state tests. Committees also will consider how to better align Oklahoma tests with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Including open-ended questions on Oklahoma tests, to make them more like NAEP is costly and we have not received an appropriation for this to date.

In recent years, the Board has focused on directing the development of rigorous, high-stakes, end-of-instruction (EOI) exams in Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, Biology, U.S. History, English II and English III, as required by the Achieving Classroom Excellence Act (ACE).

The EOI tests are part of the state’s new graduation requirements, established in the ACE Act. Beginning with the freshmen class of this past school year (2008-09), students must pass four of the seven EOI tests to earn a high school diploma.

Now that the EOI tests are operational and it appears proficiency benchmarks are sufficiently high, it is time to redirect our efforts to making certain that math and reading exams in Grades 3-8 have equal rigor to our high school exams and are appropriately aligned.

Setting higher math and reading expectations is critical to Oklahoma students being nationally and internationally competitive.

Recommendations for raising the bar on these tests will likely come to the State Board of Education for consideration in July.

We welcome this important opportunity to move Oklahoma forward.

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